Tag Archives: Boeing

Parachute tests for Boeing Starliner

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has successfully completed a parachute test at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

Uniquely, this test wasn’t conducted via the use of a helicopter of an aircraft – as seen with other vehicles, such as the Orion spacecraft. Boeing was not able to fit the Starliner test article into the hold of a C-130 or C-17 aircraft, so they instead used a 1.3-million-cubic-foot balloon, which is able to lift the capsule to its intended altitude.

The test went well, with Starliner released from the balloon, deploying two drogue parachutes at 28,000 feet to stabilize the spacecraft, then its pilot parachutes at 12,000 feet. The main parachutes followed at 8,000 feet above the ground prior to the jettison of the spacecraft’s base heat shield at 4,500 feet. Finally, the spacecraft successfully touched down.

The article once again makes note of NASA’s fake concern over the Atlas 5 rocket. The concern isn’t that the rocket isn’t reliable. The concern is that Boeing hasn’t yet gotten NASA’s certification that it is reliable. In other words, because NASA hasn’t signed a piece of paper stating the obvious fact that the Atlas 5 is safe, Boeing’s Starliner cannot be considered safe.

NASA buys Soyuz seats from Boeing

NASA has purchased two additional seats from Boeing on a Russian Soyuz capsule and rocket to get astronauts to ISS beyond 2019.

The reason Boeing was able to sell Russian Soyuz seats is because they have obtained them from the Russians in a deal to settle Boeing’s $320 million lawsuit over ending the Russian/Boeing Sea Launch partnership.

Sea Launch deal finalized?

The competition heats up? Two articles today in the Russia press suggest that either their settlement deal with Boeing over bankrupt Sea Launch is either on the verge of signing or the Russians are trying to pressure Boeing to an agreement by use of the press.

The first article says that a final agreement is about to be signed, but provides no date or indication from Boeing that they have agreed to terms. The second announces that the private Russian company that is acquiring Sea Launch from the Russian government to compete in the commercial launch market has been given a launch license by the Russian government, and will launch its first rocket from Baikonur later this year, using the Ukrainian Zenit-M rocket that was designed to fly from the Sea Launch floating platform. .This launch is intended as a test flight prior to restarting launches from the Sea Launch platform itself.

The complexity of this Sea Launch situation boggles my mind. Russia has sold Sea Launch to a private Russian airline company, S7, which will use a Ukrainian rocket to launch satellites from the Sea Launch platform. Before that can happen however Russia has to settle its dispute with Boeing, which won a $300+ million settlement in court over the breakup of their Sea Launch partnership. That settlement reportedly includes free passenger seats on Soyuz flights to ISS, which Boeing is reportedly offering to sell to NASA, which might need them. Meanwhile, Russia does not seem to have a problem with a Russian company using a Ukrainian rocket, even though Russia itself has completely banned the use of Ukrainian equipment on any of its own space rockets or capsules.

The business of commercial space sometimes amazes me.

Posted in the airport terminal in Belize City. We are waiting for everyone to arrive to take a van together to our resort, Maya Mountain Lodge.

Killing both commercial space and American astronauts

This all reeks of politics: A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday says that NASA it should not permit Boeing and SpaceX to fly humans on their capsules and rockets until they fix certain issues and test both repeatedly on unmanned flights before the first manned flights to ISS.

This GAO report was mandated by Congress, and it requires NASA to certify that both Boeing and SpaceX have met NASA’s requirements before allowing those first manned flights. While the technical issues outlined in the report — to which NASA concurs — might be of concern, my overall impression in reading the report, combined with yesterday’s announcement by NASA that they are seriously considering flying humans on SLS’s first test flight, is that this process is actually designed to put obstacles in front of Boeing and SpaceX so as to slow their progress and allow SLS to launch first with humans aboard.

For example, the report lists three main problems with the commercial manned effort. First there is the Russian engine on the Atlas 5. From the report itself [pdf]:
» Read more

NanoRacks and Boeing to build private airlock on ISS

The competition heats up: NASA has signed an agreement with NanoRacks and Boeing to build private commercial airlock to attach to ISS in 2019 and be used for commercial operations.

Commercial opportunities through Airlock begin with cubesat and small satellite deployment from station and include a full range of additional services to meet customer needs from NASA and the growing commercial sector. Currently, cubesats and small satellites are deployed through the government-operated Japanese Kibo Airlock. Additionally, the crew on board may now assemble payloads typically flown in soft-stowage ISS Cargo Transfer Bags into larger items that currently cannot be handled by the existing Kibo Airlock. “We are very pleased to have Boeing joining with us to develop the Airlock Module,” says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “This is a huge step for NASA and the U.S. space program, to leverage the commercial marketplace for low-Earth orbit, on Space Station and beyond, and NanoRacks is proud to be taking the lead in this prestigious venture.”

Beyond station, the Airlock could at some future time, be detached and placed onto another on-orbit platform.

This is part of the overall transition at NASA from government-built and -run to privately-built and -run.

Boeing unveils its spacesuit for Starliner missions

The competition heats up: Boeing today unveiled the streamlined but snazzy spacesuit it plans to use on its Starliner manned ferry flights to and from ISS.

This tidbit though I think illustrates the new mindset, to make things simpler and cheaper and more focused on their actual purpose.

Boeing’s suit, designed with the Massachusetts-based David Clark Co., weighs about 12 pounds, compared to 30 pounds for NASA’s orange suits formally called the Advanced Crew Escape Suit, or ACES. …The “get us home suit,” as Ferguson called it, couldn’t be used for a spacewalk. It’s intended to provide air and cooling to keep astronauts safe during launch and landings back on land, and during emergencies, like if a micrometeoroid strike caused a loss of cabin pressure.

Boeing obtains available seats on Soyuz as result of Sea Launch settlement

As part of Boeing’s settlement with Russia over the break-up of their Sea Launch partnership, the company has obtained rights to several manned Soyuz seats that are available because the Russians have cut back on the number of astronauts they are flying to ISS.

In turn, Boeing is offering these seats to NASA.

[John Elbon, vice president and general manager of space exploration at Boeing] said he expects NASA to make enter into negotiations with Boeing about the 2017 and 2018 seats shortly after a Jan. 27 deadline for companies to respond to the sources sought statement, a requirement when a government agency proposes a sole-source procurement. “Assuming that goes well, I think we would sit down and, in relatively short order, negotiate the details of this kind of arrangement,” he said.

He didn’t specify how much Boeing was proposing to charge NASA for the seats. The agency announced an agreement with Roscosmos in August 2015 for six Soyuz seats in 2018 at a total cost of $490 million, or $81.7 million per seat. “It’s a good value for NASA and the taxpayer,” Elbon said of Boeing’s proposed deal with NASA. “We wouldn’t ask them to pay more than they would have been paying before.”

What is happening here is that Boeing is trying to use these Soyuz seats as a way to recoup its losses from Sea Launch. The problem is that NASA doesn’t really need the manned flights in 2017 and 2018. They might need them in 2019, should the manned capsules that SpaceX and Boeing are building get delayed, but I am not sure that this deal will allow them to be used at that time.

Trump puts Boeing and Lockheed Martin in competition!

On Thursday President-elect Donald Trump said that, because of the high cost overruns in building Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter, he has asked Boeing to submit an offer to build their F-18 instead.

The point here is not that Trump is going to change contractors. The point is that he is making them both aware that he can change contractors. Also, his meetings earlier this week with the CEOs of both Boeing and Lockheed Martin does not mean he is going to do what they want. Trump’s pattern has repeatedly been to meet with people who are likely going to be his opponents to ease their minds, and then sideswipe them immediately afterward with plans that they would have opposed. His meetings with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss climate change did nothing to prevent him from picking a slew of climate skeptics for every single one of the cabinet posts involved in climate policy, people that both Gore and DiCaprio oppose strongly

Getting back to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Trump’s actions in connection with their federal aviation contracts bodes well for commercial space. He is encouraging competition, a concept that the entire commercial space program is based on. I am willing to bet that when he finally begins setting NASA policy, he is going to demand SLS/Orion compete as well, or go by the wayside.

Boeing files FCC application for 3,000 satellite constellation

The competition heats up: Boeing this week submitted its second application to the FCC for its own 3,000 satellite constellation to provide “a wide range of advanced communications and Internet-based services.”

The second application this week specifically requested permission to launch the first 60 satellites. The whole plan is comparable to the one that SpaceX submitted earlier this week, and puts these two companies in direct competition. If both plans are launched, it will mean that more than 6,000 satellites will need launch services to gain orbit, which also means the launch business could get very busy in the coming years.

Boeing and Russia to partner on building lunar space station?

As part of a settlement with Boeing in the Sea Launch lawsuit, the Russians are proposing a partnership with the American company for building a lunar orbiting space station.

A preliminary dispute settlement deal was reached in August. “We are preparing a document which, apart from finalizing the court case, also creates a program for long-term cooperation on a wide range of issues. We are working on projects to cooperate in low earth orbit, create moon infrastructure and explore deep space,” Solntsev told the Russian Izvestia newspaper. The two companies now plan to create nodes and units capable of synchronizing space technologies, including a docking station for a proposed lunar orbiting station. Meanwhile, Sea Launch settlement documents are set to be signed before the end of November, according to Solntsev.

It will be very interesting to see the actual agreement. I also wonder how much Boeing can really do with Russia without U.S. government approval.

No more manned Soyuz purchased by NASA after 2019

The competition heats up: Both Boeing and SpaceX better get their manned capsules working by 2019, because NASA at this point has no plans to buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules after the present contract runs out.

Even as the commercial crew schedules move later into 2018, NASA officials say they are not considering extending the contract with Roscosmos — the Russian space agency — for more launches in 2019. The last Soyuz launch seats reserved for U.S. astronauts are at the end of 2018.

It takes more than two years to procure components and assemble new Soyuz capsules, so Russia needed to receive new Soyuz orders from NASA by some time this fall to ensure the spacecraft would be ready for liftoff in early 2019.

The second paragraph above notes that even if NASA decided it needed more Soyuz launches, it is probably too late to buy them and have them available by 2019.

Boeing pushes back first Starliner flights

Boeing has delayed the first test flight of its Starliner manned capsule from the end of 2017 until June 2018.

Boeing says that production delays and problems with qualification tests are partly to blame for the timeline slip. The company also found a production flaw in September that forced them to get rid of a main element on one of their spacecrafts — a dome that made up the pressure shell of the crew module. All of these complications combined prompted Boeing to push back the development timeline of Starliner by about six months.

Russian airline owner signs deal to buy Sea Launch

The competition heats up: A Russian airline owner has signed a deal with the Russian government to buy Sea Launch.

Whether this guy can make the company viable again is a big question. He has to settle the court suit with Boeing and he also has to settle with either Russia or Ukraine about what rocket to use.

Budget constraints and technical challenges delay commercial crew

A NASA inspector general report released today cites both budget constraints imposed by Congress as well as technical challenges that will delay the first commercial manned mission to ISS until 2018.

When the commercial crew program began, NASA hoped to have routine flights by 2015, but that slipped in large part due to congressional underfunding in the early years. OIG noted today that its 2013 report found that adequate funding was the major challenge for the program. Congress has warmed up to the program, however, and now is approving the full President’s request so funding is not the issue it once was. Technical challenges now are the major hurdle according to today’s report.

The companies’ systems must be certified by NASA before beginning routine flights to ISS. Boeing anticipates receiving certification in January 2018 with its first certified flight in spring 2018, and SpaceX is working toward late 2017 for its first certified mission, the OIG report says. But it is skeptical: “Notwithstanding the contractors’ optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018.”

The report has been written prior to yesterday’s Falcon 9 launchpad failure, which will certainly impact the schedule negatively.

Essentially, the report claims that the program was delayed initially by about two to three years because of the refusal of Congress to fund it fully. The delays to come will be instead because of the technical challenges. While I tend to agree with this assessment, I also note that government reports like this are often designed to generate more funds for the agencies involved, not find a better way to do things. If we are not diligent and hard-nosed about how we fund this program I worry that with time commercial crew will become corrupted by the government’s sloppy and inefficient way of doing things, and become as bloated as Orion and SLS. This is one of the reasons I never complained when Congress short funded the program previously, as it forced the companies involved to keep their costs down.

Starliner and Orion drop tests

The competition heats up: NASA and Boeing have begun drop tests on land and water respectively of their Orion and Starliner manned capsules.

Both sets of tests are taking place at Langley. With Orion they are dropping the mockup in water to test how it will respond to a variety of circumstances. With Starliner they have finished the water drop tests and have begun drop tests on land.

Russia-Boeing settlement in Sea Launch dispute?

According to one Russian news source, Russia has negotiated a settlement with Boeing over their Sea Launch dispute.

Russia says it has a possible buyer of Sea Launch, but they can’t sell it because the floating launchpad is in the U.S. and Boeing has gone to court to block the sale until Russia pays them the $300 million it owes them.

Design problems for Starliner

In the heat of competition: Boeing is working to correct two serious design problems that cropped up during the construction of its Starliner manned capsule.

First the thing was weighing too much:

One issue involved the mass of the crew capsule, which outgrew the lift capability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket selected to put it into orbit. The CST-100 Starliner will ride an Atlas 5 rocket with two solid rocket boosters and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage, and although Boeing and ULA engineers considered adding a third strap-on motor to compensate for the capsule’s extra weight, managers now have the spacecraft back under its mass allowance, Ferguson said.

Second, the capsule has a shape problem:

Ferguson said Boeing has a model of the Atlas 5 rocket and CST-100 Starliner in a wind tunnel to verify a change to capsule’s outer shape devised to overcome higher-than-expected aerodynamic launch loads discovered in testing. “They had one issue, a non-linear aerodynamic loads issue, where they were getting some high acoustic loads right behind the spacecraft,” said Phil McAlister, head of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development office in Washington.

Something here is rotten. It seems to me that Boeing shouldn’t be having these very basic problems right off the bat. In the past, under the older cost-plus contracts NASA used to routinely hand out, these kinds of problems would simply have meant that Boeing would have gotten more money from NASA, This time, however the contract is fixed-price. If Boeing has problems or delays, the company will have to bear the cost, not NASA. I suspect these problems might have occurred because of some cultural laziness at Boeing. Their management is used to not having to eat the cost of these kinds of mistakes. Now, they will. I expect the culture to therefore begin changing.

Russia negotiating with Australian investors to buy SeaLaunch

The competition heats up: Roscosmos revealed today that Russia is negotiating with investors in Australia to buy SeaLaunch.

I’m not sure how seriously we can take this announcement. The sale still has a lot of problems for any investors. Boeing is owed a lot of money by the SeaLaunch partners, specifically Russia, and the SeaLaunch floating launchpad is docked in the U.S. where they can hold it as collateral

Boeing begins assembling second Starliner manned capsule

The competition heats up: With the arrival of the major capsule components to Boeing’s Florida facility the company has begun assembly of its second Starliner manned capsule.

Following closely behind the joining of the two major hull components for the Structural Test Article (STA) of the CST-100 Starliner, Boeing and NASA are marking the arrival of the upper dome, one half of the Starliner pressure vessel, for the second Starliner module. The three components will undergo separate outfitting operations in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) where wiring lines, avionics and other systems will be installed and tested before the pieces are connected to form a complete Starliner.

This second Starliner module is known to Boeing as Spacecraft 1. Once completed inside C3PF, Starliner Spacecraft 1 will be outfitted with electrical and fluid systems before engineers will attach the outer thermal protection shielding and the base heat shield that will eventually protect crewmembers during re-entry. Starliner Spacecraft 1 will be used in the pad abort test to validate that the launch abort system will be able to lift astronauts away from danger in the event of an emergency during launch.

The article provides good detail about the upcoming Starliner test schedule.

First manned Starliner flight delayed

Boeing has revealed that the first manned flight of Starliner will be delayed until 2018.

This delay for Boeing is not really a surprise. Unlike SpaceX, the company had done very little actual development work on the capsule before winning its contract from NASA. They therefore have a lot more to do to become flight worthy. My one worry is their contract. If the contract is fixed price, as with the original cargo contracts awarded SpaceX and Orbital ATK, Boeing will have no incentive to delay, as they won’t be paid anything until they achieve specific milestones and will get no additional monies to cover the added costs of the delay. If the contract is cost-plus, however, NASA’s traditional contract system used for SLS, Orion, and almost every other boondoggle since the 1960s, then Boeing will be paid regardless of the delay, and NASA will also be on the hook for paying the additional delay costs, thus giving Boeing an incentive to slow walk the construction.

I think the contract was fixed-price, but am not sure. Anyone out there have an answer?

Boeing moves to block Russians from selling Sea Launch

In a reaction to news that the Russians have a potential buyer for Sea Launch, Boeing has sued to block the sale.

In a motion for a preliminary injunction filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California April 2, Boeing argued that a sale of Sea Launch could hinder its ability to collect on a summary judgment issued last year against Energia of at least $300 million. “If Energia succeeds in selling these assets and moving all of the proceeds thereof to Russia, without paying the hundreds of millions of dollars that it owes, it would unquestionably complicate Boeing’s collection efforts,” the company’s lawyers stated in the court filing.

Energia has refused to pay that $300 million. However, since Sea Launch’s floating launch platform remains docked in California, Boeing retains a great deal of leverage in this legal dispute. I expect the court will eventually put a lock on those assets until the Russians pay up.

Blue Origin engine testing update

The competition heats up: Jeff Bezos has released an update on Blue Origin’s test program of its BE-4 rocket engine, being built as a possible replacement for the Russian engines in the Atlas 5.

Bezos’s final comment kind of explains why Boeing has favored them over Aerojet Rocketdyne for this engine:

One of the many benefits of a privately funded engine development is that we can make and implement decisions quickly. Building these two new test cells is a $10 million commitment, and we as a team made the decision to move forward in 10 minutes. Less than three weeks later we were pouring the needed three-foot thick foundations. Private funding and rapid decision making are two of the reasons why the BE-4 is the fastest path to eliminate U.S. dependence on the Russian-made RD-180.

I imagine however a lot of Congressmen are upset by this. If they do it too cheaply or too quickly there will be far less opportunity to spend pork in their districts!

ULA’s parent companies express caution about Vulcan

The competition heats up? The executives in charge of ULA’s parent companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, today expressed mixed support for the development of the Vulcan rocket, designed to replace the Atlas 5.

For more than a year, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been investing in the rocket on a quarter-by-quarter basis and the ULA board leaders said this week that the practice would continue. “We have to be prudent, disciplined stewards of any kind of investment,” Ambrose [Lockheed Martin] said. “Vulcan would be like any other investment decision.”

In September 2015, ULA’s leaders said a ban by Congress on the Russian RD-180 rocket engine, which powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, was a leading driver behind the measured investment in Vulcan. But that issue was temporarily resolved in December, when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) used a must-pass spending bill to eliminate the engine restrictions that had become law just weeks earlier.

Now, Ambrose pointed to “uncertainties” with launch policy, while Cooning [Boeing] said disagreements between lawmakers and the Air Force on the best approach for ending RD-180 dependence have given them pause, further justifying a “cautious and conservative approach.”

In other words, now that the law requiring a quick replacement of the Russian engine has been repealed, these executives feel less compunction to build Vulcan, something I had sensed in December and had commented on. As a result, they are telling us, in their tangled corporate ways, that they are not going to invest much of their own money on Vulcan, unless the government forks up a lot of cash for them to proceed.

Drop test of Boeing’s Starliner capsule

The competition heats up: Boeing has successfully dropped a fullscale test vehicle of its Starliner manned capsule into water.

Video below the fold. It isn’t very spectacular, as all they do is lift the capsule up about 35-40 feet and then drop it at an angle into a tank of water. Nonetheless, it shows that construction is moving forward briskly.
» Read more

Starliner schedule shapes up

The competition heats up: The schedule and launch plans for Boeing’s manned Starliner spacecraft are now becoming solidified.

For Boeing, Starliner will first launch on an uncrewed test flight to the Station via the “Boe-OFT” mission in April or May, 2017 – on a 30 day mission, ending with a parachute-assisted return. Should all go to plan, the second mission will involve a crew on a mission designated “Boe-CFT”, launching sometime between July and September, 2017, on a 14-day mission to the ISS.

The article also outlines the launch procedures Boeing intends to follow, some determined by the company and some by NASA’s complex safety rules. One interesting tidbit about Starliner revealed here that I was unaware of previously is that the capsule is made of separate top and bottom units that are only fitted together late in the launch process, allowing for easier access.

Aerojet Rocketdyne gets Boeing rocket engine contract

The competition heats up: Boeing has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $200 million contract to build the propulsion system for the service module for its manned Starliner capsule.

Unlike the big contract NASA gave Aerojet to restart its shuttle engine production line, this contract is for engines that will actually fly in space and accomplish something.

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